dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Yay, Ems! Go, Cubs!

September 16th, 2016 · No Comments

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Allan Benavides has one of the hardest jobs in baseball. As the general manager for the Eugene Emeralds, he’s on the field only when the stands are empty. He pitches his team to the Chamber of Commerce or to corporate clients, hoping for a hit. He switch hits every day, alternating short-term gains enjoyed locally with the long-term interests of his parent club in Chicago.

Every minor league baseball team is an exercise in divided loyalties. Winning games is good and fun, but that’s not the ultimate goal for Benavides, Ems manager Jesus Feliciano, or for any of the players on the team. Everybody wants to see this particular group of men score more runs in nine innings than their opponent, but that’s not really the point.

Northwest League is a short season training league. The team’s major league sponsor, the Chicago Cubs, sends prospects to Eugene to work on skills. There’s a slugger who pulls every pitch, a speedster who can’t bunt, a pitcher whose slider sails when he’s behind in the count.

They hone those skills in practice, but also under pressure — when a game is on the line. Any coach or educator will tell you that failure is the best teacher, and yet the team still wants to win every game. That’s why Benavides and Feliciano have such hard jobs.

Losing games the right way is what they are paid to do, but sport is never completely predictable, so every night also offers the possibility of winning a game the wrong way. Things don’t always go according to plan, and that’s the plan. If an infielder misses a cut-off throw, does the catcher position himself correctly? Does the pitcher run to back up the first baseman for routine ground outs? Is the center fielder alert, in case a runner attempts to steal second?

Those are the lessons the players are here to learn. Their competence at this level earns them a higher rung on the ladder to the big leagues. Players who succeed are rewarded with a promotion, and the Eugene Emeralds receive a new player to take his place, with different skills to be perfected.

A man in a similar line of work once described this sort of nurturing churn as “laying eggs on an escalator.” You do the work to get things started, but the real success will happen elsewhere, while you’re getting more things started. It never ends, and that’s by design.

The Emeralds reached what feels like an end this week, when they won their first league championship in 41 years. After decades of futility playing for the San Diego Padres, their new affiliation with the Chicago Cubs produced a winner almost immediately.

That might be because the Cubs hired wunderkind Theo Epstein as general manager, hoping to reverse a century of being Chicago’s lovable losers. I grew up cheering for the Cubs, who borrowed the Washington Senators’ unofficial motto. The Cubs were always “first in our hearts, and last in the National League.”

Epstein went all in for youth. He stocked the Cubs’ farm system with good players. He paid extra for excellent managers, who could get the most out of those players. Suddenly, the Emeralds saw above them a crowded escalator filled with hatching eggs.

The Cubs offer no glide path to the Mother Ship for promising phenoms. The lanes ahead of them are crowded with other good players. So the Northwest League’s best pitcher, Manuel Rondon, stayed put in Eugene. He didn’t graduate to a more advanced team in the Cubs’ system. He pitched the team’s final game and collected the trophy with his teammates on Tuesday.

Winning is a skill that Epstein wants all of his players to experience and master. Football coaches teach players how to celebrate when they reach the end zone with this bit of pith: “Act like you’ve been there before.”

And so this baseball team, and each of its members, learned a new skill this week — trophy-hoisting. That’s a skill and a memory they’ll take from Eugene. And someday we’ll say we remember them back when.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Free Cake Parade for Eugene Graduates

September 9th, 2016 · No Comments

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Here’s an idea we can borrow from another Oregon town, and we’ve got nine months to plan it. Klamath Falls invited every graduate from every local school — even kindergarten — to an early summer celebration for their achievement.

Their “Graduation Sensation” in June started with a parade and ended with free cake. In between, the town raised almost $20,000 to give away in scholarships. Even those who had no plans for entering college were eligible for local gift cards.

Organizers, who hope to make it an annual event in Klamath Falls, are trying to solve two problems in that community of 21,000. Their town has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the state. Almost a thousand graduates of their Oregon Institute of Technology were surveyed this year and almost none had plans to settle in the Klamath Basin.

Eugene’s graduation rates are not as dismal as Klamath Falls, but they still merit our attention. Putting a solution ahead of a problem is not always a bad thing, especially when it involves free cake.

Anything our community does to celebrate graduations will synchronize with University of Oregon President Michael Schill’s shrewd strategy to address rising tuition costs. Quite sensibly, he is focused on increasing the percentage of students who graduate in four years.

If a UO student can graduate in four years instead of five, that’s a tuition savings of 20 percent, not to mention the extra year of post-graduate income. Increasing graduation rates also ensures that students receive the benefit of the degree when they first enter the workforce. A college degree is still a good investment for most young people, but only if they matriculate.

If we can align the ambitions of Oregon’s flagship university with our identity as its host community, Eugene could do something that college towns rarely do. We could become the paradigm of a [BEGIN ITALICS] college city [END ITALICS], committed to learning and curiosity at our core. A party for all local graduates will help us grow into our best selves — collectively and individually.

It’s a rare young person who doesn’t need a tangible goal to focus his or her efforts. Watching citizens of Eugene line the streets to applaud their accomplishment might be just what our children need when their spelling or trigonometry homework seems daunting.

I’m sure there are thousands who would line the streets to celebrate these successes. Some might even reverse the usual roles and bring candy to throw at the paraders. Eugene’s prankster heritage has some tasty benefits.

The community’s benefit should not be overlooked. We’re all too familiar with the pangs that come with watching our best and brightest move away. They will go where they have the best opportunities, but if we send them away with a party, we better the chances they’ll want to return. There’s nothing like leaving a good last impression.

We’d be surprised how many students we have — or even how many schools! Eugene and Bethel School Districts produce the most graduates every year, but the University of Oregon and Lane Community College cannot be overlooked. Then there’s all our charter, private, Waldorf and Montessori schools. Don’t forget Pacifica University, Northwest Christian University, New Hope Christian College, and Gutenberg College. The list goes on.

We’re a learning community that loves a good party. Without the Eugene Celebration, we’re short on parades around here. Let’s celebrate one of the best parts of ourselves — our students.

Every student who will be spending the summer wondering what it will be like in the fall at a new school (or being finished with school) should be invited to hear the community’s congratulations. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. A simple cap-and-gown procession on 13th Avenue between downtown and the university would suffice.

It may be hard for many of us to remember what it was like finishing fifth or eighth or twelfth grade, but that’s all the more reason to make that memory a little richer for our young people. We can share their celebration, even if only the graduates get free cake.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Olympics as Prelude

September 2nd, 2016 · No Comments

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Oregon track coach and Track Town USA president Vin Lananna described his August this way: “I’m not sure there’s been anything quite as rewarding or exciting or as tiring as the Olympic Games. Quite honestly, it was fantastic.”

Not yet, anyway.

Nobody involved in the Rio games will say that it was a good prelude, but that’s what Eugene is starting to feel. The best is yet to come. Many top athletes have already set their training clocks to Tokyo time, aiming for better performances at the 2020 Olympics. Coach/impresario Lananna, the city of Eugene and University of Oregon are all looking one year further — to hosting the World Championships in 2021.

Every “spit and shine” detail across the region is pointing toward that singular horizon. Ask any painter how they organize everything on their canvas and they’ll tell you a secret that works for life beyond the palette. A common vanishing point keeps everything in perspective. But let’s not focus so much on 2021 that we don’t pause for a moment to enjoy 2016.

Lananna was taking notes to optimize the athletes’ experience of Hayward Field in 2021, but that didn’t distract from the task at hand. Team USA dominated the Track and Field medal haul, winning 13 gold medals and 32 medals overall.

But Oregon’s influence was deeper and wider than that. Alberto Salazar’s training methods are no longer considered controversial. “Oregon Project” protege Galen Rupp finished his second marathon ever with a bronze medal. His Portland training partner Mo Farah took two distance-running gold medals, but those wins are credited to his home country of Great Britain.

Ducks seemed to be everywhere, bringing home about a dozen medals. Devon Allen made it to the finals in the 110 hurdles, finishing fifth. (Imagine Allen’s UO classmates trying to match his summer vacation stories.) He’s already looking ahead to 2020: “I kind of accomplished that Olympic dream, obviously. In four years, I want to win a gold medal, so that’s one more step to that dream.”

The planning horizon looks different for Eugene’s ultimate power couple, Ashton Eaton and Brianne Thiesen-Eaton. They’ve added to their family mantle another gold medal for the men’s decathlon, plus a bronze in the women’s heptathlon.

They are looking ahead to another challenge of a different sort. They are planning to start a family. There’s no reason to believe they won’t build their parenting skills with the same vigor and commitment they’ve demonstrated in everything else they’ve done together.

I once ended up sitting behind these two on a quick flight to San Francisco. I saw Eaton texting his mother before the cabin door shut. They snuggled a bit with the arm rest lifted between them. They dropped what they were doing to listen to the safety announcements. When Eaton looked behind him to locate the nearest exit, that’s when I knew he was different from the rest of us.

Some of his success comes from good coaching, but following directions shows a measure of character that cannot be invented. It’s one thing to be the best. It’s something else to carry it with such grace.

Eaton caught some flack from fans for wearing a Canada hat while cheering his wife’s efforts. Online trolls accused him of being a traitor, cheering for any athlete not representing the USA — even his Canadian wife.

Eaton didn’t back down, taking to Twitter: “Have I not represented USA well? Yet u demand more. Ur respect is hard earned. I support the country that produced my wife; who ru2 shame me?”

And then, the ever-reasonable but devoted husband claimed the high road in a follow-up tweet: “Are your grandparents from another country? Will your grandchildren be? What then? Hopefully you’ll adopt a more reasonable view.”

We should all be glad these two want children. By the time their Ducklings are running, skipping and jumping, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk or others may be looking for volunteers to start colonizing Mars. The Eatons would be perfect candidates. Just when world domination has been completely achieved, more worlds emerge to be conquered.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Three Views of Competition (From the Street)

August 26th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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I have a friend who writes a syndicated newspaper column, offering her readers financial advice. I asked her once about her three houses in three states. She paused, as if formulating a different answer for me than she might give to others. “It helps,” she said with a wink and a smile, “when you eat your own cooking.”

I don’t think she was telling me that most people eat out too much. I think she was saying that her financial advice wouldn’t be very good if she didn’t follow it herself.

I recommended to readers a few weeks ago that they could unlearn a childhood “stranger danger” fear and acquaint themselves the world around them a little better if they bought or sold a few incidental items, using the classified ads or craigslist.

I took my own advice the last couple of weeks. I learned a lot. I’ve fudged a few details to protect anonymity, but here is a short report.

I bought some unused lockers a Ducks athletic department surplus sale about 20 years ago. I used them as a fun alternative to doorway drawers for hats and gloves, but I eventually grew tired of the joke. So I placed an ad. The woman who called wanted me to verify the dimensions, which I did.

She rolled up to my house, cash in hand, and asked me to help her load the lockers into a small school bus she had converted into a mobile fashion store. The lockers fit, just barely, and we chatted for a moment in the street. “Funky stuff like this is impossible to find in Portland. It gets snapped up so quick!”

She’d recently arrived in the Whiteaker neighborhood, looking for the Portland funk at a slower pace. Her vehicle and vision were nothing if not unique, but she can’t find a way to stand out in Portland. Everyone can do their part to “keep Portland weird,” but it helps if you have a full-body tattoo or a three-legged dog.

I then bought a television from a young man who needed money to make rent. He and his girlfriend had just moved into an apartment on a busy road near campus. He’s out of a job. I agreed that it “stinks,” using that softer word, in case I wanted to reprint the exchange in a family newspaper.

“It’s not losing the job that (stinks),” he told me as he wrapped the cords. “It’s when the unemployment runs out. That’s what makes it hard.” He lowered his voice when he said it, perhaps not wanting his girlfriend in the next room or neighbors though the thin walls to hear.

I asked him what sort of work he wanted. “Pretty much anything, at this point.” I think I passed five “Help Wanted” signs driving home, but this young man hadn’t connected with any of them. I didn’t learn exactly why. I’m sure there’s more to the story.

The next day I met a young woman whose story was very different. She had an end table that fits my decor, so I was at her door with the amount she requested. Her living room was mostly empty, because she and her husband were moving to San Diego.

“We have no jobs or friends down there, but it’s where we want to be,” she said. “We’re young. We’ll work it out. It will be an adventure.” She smiled. “We’ve always been the ones with a little more faith.” I didn’t ask the object of her faith. It didn’t matter.

I congratulated them for taking the risks to realize their dreams. I’ll admit I was contrasting her with my TV friend, who had exhausted his unemployment benefits.

Reflecting back, if I had seen these three in the grocery line ahead of me, I might not have noticed much difference between them. But I had opportunity to ask each a simple question: “What’s your story?”

Stories shine in ways statistics can’t. Everyone strives differently. You can welcome, dread, or mitigate competition, but you cannot escape it — at least not for very long.


Don Kahle ( blogs at

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Greater Greater Eugene

August 26th, 2016 · No Comments

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Big things usually change slowly, except when they don’t. The town of Eugene changed this week. After growing in population, reputation and confidence for decades, it became the city of Eugene. Some will say it happened a while ago. Others will insist it hasn’t happened yet and that its cityhood might still be averted.

A town becomes a city the same way a child becomes an adult. It hasn’t really happened until those around you say it has. And that’s what happened this week, when Lane County’s economic development corporation announced that it had renamed itself Greater Eugene Inc.

“People who are not from here may not know where the Willamette Valley is, or even how to pronounce Willamette,” said board president Mike Eyster. The organization had recently changed its name from Lane Metro Partnership to the Southern Willamette Economic Development Corp.

In retrospect, Eyster admitted, “SWEDCO doesn’t have much of a ring to it. We thought having a word in our title that has some indication of where we are was pretty important.” That word is Eugene.

Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg agreed with the choice. “You need to have some sort of name recognition,” she said. In the end, whatever notoriety Springfield gleaned from The Simpsons couldn’t compete with what the Oregon Ducks have brought Eugene.

Longtime Springfield mayor Bill Morrisette once floated the idea of merging the two towns into a single Emerald City, but it was greeted with the same enthusiasm as a Hatfield-McCoy wedding.

Eugene’s growth into a city will benefit Springfield, as well as most of the rest of Lane County. Big systems need a strong center of gravity.

Once the central body gains sufficient mass, the orbits of all the others become more stable. Education, employment, entertainment — everything that causes people to move around — begin to cohere. Changes become more predictable, and so more manageable.

It has not been an easy effort. Local football success may have accelerated the process, saving us from an additional decade of angst. During Robb Hankins’ brief tenure as the head of Eugene’s Cultural Services, he lobbied for a rallying slogan. He declared Eugene to be, without a hint of irony, “the world’s greatest city for the arts and outdoors.”

In retrospect, Hankins was being dumb as a fox. The first three words ignited controversy and more than a little embarrassment. Of course we’re not “the world’s greatest” anything, so we toned down the claim to be simply “a great city for the arts and outdoors.”

Arts and outdoors was never a point of controversy, but look what that magician snuck through the middle, right before our eyes! “City.” Belatedly, I say to Hankins, “Bravo.”

I’ve written about the slogan before, arguing that the most important word is “and” because Eugene has bountiful urban and rural recreation choices within its borders. In the state of “OR” Eugene offers “and.”

We knew our claim for recreational greatness would not be challenged, but in a state without a sales tax, you can’t build an economy with good shows and plenty of open space. Parking fees and restaurant tips will never do more than cover basic costs. Incomes are what matter most, and the best way to increase the average wage is to make more jobs available.

That’s where’s Eyster’s organization, and its newly hired director, Ward Wimbish, come into the picture. It will be Wimbish’s job to “sell” the region to companies looking for opportunities to relocate or expand. Referring to the area as “greater Eugene” is better than “southern Willamette” or “Lane metro” simply because people around the world have heard of Eugene. If you haven’t gotten their attention, you can’t build their interest.

The benefits of Wimbish’s success will be spread across the region. Families may find attractive housing in one place, jobs they enjoy in another, with entertainment opportunities in a third. Better jobs across the entire region are welcome, as Eugene becomes the go-to option for any of those three.

What matters most is that now we can all pull in the same direction, hoping for exactly the same outcome: a greater greater Eugene.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Deady’s Different on the Inside. We All Are.

August 19th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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Yale University just completed a “denaming” process similar to what University of Oregon President Michael Schill is contemplating for Deady Hall and Dunn Hall. In predictable academic fashion, Yale found a way to split the difference. They chose to retain the name for Calhoun College, but dropped the traditional title of “master” and replaced it with “head of college” for each of its residential colleges.

Oregon can follow that path by renaming the more recent Dunn Hall and retaining Deady Hall. But there’s an opportunity here to dig a little deeper in a way that both affirms the university’s mission and deeply engages its students.

Everyone agrees that learning without history is nonsensical. Learning is cumulative. It builds on what’s already known. When an instructor designs curriculum to build toward student discovery or a researcher draws on colleagues’ findings to further her own work, each stands on the shoulders of what’s been done.

New work sometimes exposes errors or shortcomings in the old work. Learning progresses when its trajectory is not slavishly linear. Past work is not erased. It is corrected.

Pursuit of knowledge requires modesty. Every theory carries with it an invitation to be disproved or bettered by those who follow. It must be that way, or learning won’t continue. When learning stops, the university will ask only that the last one to leave should turn out the lights and recycle the pizza boxes.

Progressive learning adds context to what is known, by setting it against what was known before. Of all the life skills being taught in schools, contextualizing information is right up there with home economics for basic survival. Context elicits modesty’s cousin, empathy. It’s good to know where thoughts and people are coming from.

Context is what we’ve gained from the scholarly work Schill commissioned to inform his upcoming decision. Matthew Deady “had a very complicated intellect that defies a simple summary,” the analysis concluded.

Exactly. So how can the university promote complicated intellects? Wrestling with conflicting values is at the core of its enterprise. Wherever the past and future meet, the threshold for learning is set.

Sometimes to think outside the box, it’s useful to peek inside.

The most important space inside a building has no space at all. It is a line, or as the mathematicians housed in Deady Hall may insist, a line segment. There’s a line that separates the outside from the inside. Remove that line and the building becomes a sculpture — an entirely different thing.

That line is called the threshold. It brings outsiders in. It sends insiders out. A building’s threshold is like the present moment. Each does not literally exist, except to separate old from new, out from in. The threshold is the teachable space.

Names themselves have a threshold, an invisible line that separates the thing from its meaning. Apple means fruit, but only to those who speak English, unless it means computer. The name changes, but the fruit does not.

Matthew Deady made a name for himself as a judge and a founder of the University of Oregon. But he also was given a name — that same name — by his parents, Daniel and Mary Ann. Each provides context for the other.

Which of those identical names is the one borne by the university’s oldest building? Let us stipulate it is named for the man. Let us also affirm that the man’s reputation is mutable, open to correction and improvement — as everything we learn should be.

Keep the name on the outside of the building, but use the inside of the building’s threshold to convey the ever-changing reputation of the man. Let those who lobbied for the change be the ones to change the lobby.

They may install mock signs to separate students by race. Adorn its walls with Deady’s most damning words. Sign students up for good seats to an imagined lynching.

It won’t settle the controversy. It will perpetuate it. An excellent university must engage young minds and foster active spirits. No one is completely the same, inside and out. Context matters. Schill can open that door to a vital life lesson.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Fear of a Hillary Landslide Could Produce a Governing Coalition

August 18th, 2016 · No Comments

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I hope some of Hillary Clinton’s strategy team is planning for a landslide, because everyone agrees that nobody knows what could happen. With the right plan, it won’t matter whether the landslide occurs. The specter of a landslide could suffice.

Her campaign should seize on this universal uncertainty to assemble the governing majority she’ll need to succeed after she’s elected.

In September, when voters begin getting serious, she should release a list of five bills that will top her legislative agenda in 2017, with a promise to add five more in October.

Like the Contract With America, Clinton would be calling on legislators to sign on to her agenda. But unlike Gingrich’s campaign, she would present the program as post-partisan, welcoming frightened Republican lawmakers into the fold. In fact, they would be her primary audience.

If a legislative agenda can get passed with Republicans who worried that Clinton’s coattails could have swept them out of office, that would be better for the country and the president than any scorched-earth effort to exclude Republicans from the agenda.

In the past, this could never have been done during a campaign season because both parties — but especially the Republicans — value discipline and reward loyalty. Those values are clearly losing their grip on candidates, but also on voters.

After this election, who knows what being a Republican will even mean? And if the major political party duopoly ends for the first time since the Whigs were a factor, what will it mean to be a Democrat?

With a healthy dash of magnanimity, Clinton can portray herself to voters as a policy wonk first, and a party loyalist second. Indeed, party discipline was a means to an end. She must convince the country the outcome she values most is not party dominance, but actually getting things done.

The last Democrat to enter the Oval Office without a majority in both houses of Congress was Grover Cleveland in 1885. Each of the eight Democratic presidents since started his first term with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. In recent years, that unanimity of leadership has been lost in two years or less. Clinton’s goal should be for it to matter less.

Democrats need 30 seats to flip in the House of Representatives to regain a legislative majority there. The Senate is more within reach, but less valuable without a House majority to accompany it.

Clinton stands a better chance by welcoming political adversaries as governing partners. Voter have taken every recent opportunity to express disgust with Washington, DC. They may not agree whether it’s the federal government’s inaction and overreach, but they’re near unanimous about wanting to see change. A post-partisan governing coalition would address both ends of the political spectrum.

Republican leaders normally would pressure candidates to hew the party line, but that line has gotten awfully squiggly in Donald Trump’s hand. If Clinton reaches out her hand to embattled Republican Congressional candidates, it may begin to look like a life line. Her pledge to them would be only to hold her fire against them, and to say publicly that she can work with either candidate.

If September brings Clinton a couple dozen Republicans to her coalition campaign, October can be spent raising the stakes with additional legislative initiatives being added each week.

Republican candidates who signed on will be boxed in. Will they still support the program’s first five agenda items or renege on their signed pledge? Once they’ve agreed to work with the opposing party, they can’t publicly blanch at the rising price. Not without inviting the focused fury of the Democratic machine in the final weeks of the campaign.

Voters seem to be signaling that their deepest desire is to see government begin working for them again. Backing away from a post-partisan Contract With America, even over issues the voters may be ambivalent about, would be very risky.

But that almost shouldn’t matter to Clinton. As Gingrich showed in 1995, when your personality is less than winsome, keeping the focus on governance will please voters more than if they look too closely at you.


Don Kahle ( blogs at

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Tiny Stop Signs Are a Huge Mistake

August 12th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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I have a good friend with a practiced reply when people say they don’t like politics: “How do you feel about stop signs?” His rapier point is that every intersection of humanity may at some point require a political intervention. I wonder how he feels about the conditional stop signs that have sprouted up in crosswalks across America.

I think the signs themselves are a patently bad idea. Driving can be strenuous and stressful, so we’ve worked very hard to make certain reactions automatic. Green means go, red means stop. Eight sides also means stop. Except now, all of a sudden, we’re asking drivers to attend to conditional statements that include what we’ve taught ourselves to be a reflex response.

If there’s a pedestrian in view, you must stop until that pedestrian has crossed the street, or risk a traffic violation fine of up to $250. That statement may be true, but it belongs on the driver exam or in the DMV offices; not on the roadway.

It may add some protection for the person attempting to cross the street, but it also may not provide that protection. No pedestrian should rely on an if/then statement of conditional causality. It will always be safer to look both ways for oncoming traffic.

It’s no coincidence that these signs began sprouting from the asphalt over the last half decade. If you spent too much time alone, you could convince yourself that the signs are a distillation of the well-intentioned overreach that happens whenever liberal politicians are given power for too long a stretch.

It surely makes sense to somebody somewhere to install these signs or to provide the funding that makes the signs and their installation nearly irresistible. But that doesn’t mean the urge shouldn’t be resisted. It should. Here’s why.

Have you ever wondered why flight attendants are required to demonstrate how to work the safety belts on the airplane, even if the plane is nearly empty and every single passenger has flown many times before? Studies have shown that people in an emergency can forget that the airline safety belts work differently than the ones they use in cars. Yes, people can actually get stuck in an airplane seat because they can’t remember to “lift up on the buckle to release.” That recent reminder aims to override the reflex response.

When people are panicked, they’re not always who they think they are. A different set of responses take over when survival is at stake. So what’s wrong with being reminded about the law that requires motorists to yield to pedestrians? Isn’t that similar to the flight attendant rehearsing emergency procedures?

Similar, but not the same. I’d have no gripe with the signs if they didn’t include a miniature stop sign in its argumentative statement. The four letters would suffice to convey the information in a way that works in non-urgent situations. The iconic red octagon must retain its visceral urgency to remain effective.

When we see that shape and color, we stop first and ask questions later. That’s how it should be. Now we’re asking every driver to evaluate context and conditions every time they see that red shape. Is it part of a discursive message or is it standing alone without explanatory context? Should I stop or should I ask myself whether I should stop?

Drivers will reprogram their reactions at different paces, inviting new and unnecessary havoc.

I find myself tapping my brakes on Willamette Street when there are no pedestrians anywhere around. Somebody following close behind me might not expect my seemingly random braking. Worse than that, a driver might accidentally blow through a conventional stop sign, because there are no pedestrians in sight, when crossing traffic has the right of way.

Pedestrians certainly need more protection. A dozen pedestrians die every day in traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A pedestrian injury occurs approximately every eight minutes. This little change in roadway adornment was designed to save lives, but it could end up making things worse.

The solution may be stop signs, but it’s not maybe stop signs.


Don Kahle ( blogs at

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Urban Renewal Needs Investment Professionals

August 12th, 2016 · 1 Comment

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The Eugene City Council recently extended the life of the city’s downtown urban renewal district for another few years, focusing spending on four projects: ultra-fast wi-fi for downtown, transforming the old LCC downtown building into a business incubator, updating and enhancing the downtown’s public spaces, and assisting the downtown farmers market.

These are all worthy projects, but they betray a lack of vision for how urban renewal districts can be used to accelerate growth in the city’s central core. Most cities with a progressive governing majority love “tax increment financing” because it focuses funding to achieve tangible — and popular — outcomes.

In fact, the Portland Development Commission (PDC), functioning as Portland’s urban renewal agency, achieved so many outcomes by the turn of the millennium that the organization had to be reined in. Its power coincided with Portland becoming a national darling for entrepreneurs and job-creators. If anything, Portland became too successful, as anyone who has scouted the city for storefront or housing locations can testify.

Eugene is a long way from having that sort of problem, but we are seeing a certain momentum — the technical term is “vibe” — especially downtown. Now would be an excellent time to convince the members of Eugene’s current urban renewal agency to bring in experts focused exclusively the funds available for improving downtown.

There’s only nine things keeping that from happening — the members of the urban renewal agency themselves. They didn’t earn their position by being good financial planners or investment brokers. None of them have accounting degrees. And every one of the agency’s current members is already very busy with other duties.

So, you may ask, why doesn’t the Eugene City Council replace the agency’s current members with professionals who manage real estate, development, affordable housing, and investments all the time? They may believe bad luck could follow from breaking nine mirrors. Since the 1980s, the Eugene City Council has been doubling as our Urban Renewal Agency.

The supposed synergy has economic consequences. Urban renewal funds too often function as an expense account to further the wider goals that the city is pursuing. By contrast, Portland has seen the benefits of having those funds focused intently on growing the district and its future funding capacity.

Take another example. The University of Oregon Foundation is not run by a bunch of professors, even though the foundation’s mission is to further the school’s academic goals. Bankers and investment professionals manage the foundation to earn maximum returns to support the university. Eugene should follow that model.

But how do you get nine public servants, charged to look out for the city and their constituents, to give up some of their power? There may be a way — and one of our former mayors happens to be the one who found it.

Brian Obie built his outdoor advertising empire by offering public transit agencies an irresistible deal. His company would do all the work selling ads on their busses and trains — for free. The agency would get as much or more money to support their transit mission, but without doing any of the work. Obie guaranteed them at least the same revenue, but with less risk and almost no effort.

Obie’s staff would then focus intently on one thing — selling ads. They earned money only by exceeding the transit company’s prior revenue returns. They often exceeded those expectations by quite a bit, making plenty of money for Obie’s company.

Eugene could adapt that playbook for public good, charging a volunteer urban renewal agency to focus only on what PDC, led by Eugene alumni Abe Farkas and Lew Bowers, called “the multiplier effect.”

Only revenues above the current baseline would be reinvested by the agency, but its focus would be squarely on that multiplier. Each dollar invested downtown would be required to return ten dollars to the district. As that multiplier begins multiplying, the baseline give-back would quickly become negligible.

Could Eugene give its staff and city councilors the same amount of money each year to lavish on projects inside the district’s boundaries, while growing the district’s capacity to accelerate downtown opportunities? I’m sure of it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Politics, Policies, Policing — Oh My!

August 5th, 2016 · No Comments

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Eugene takes a break from politics for six weeks every summer. Eugene City Council recesses from August until mid-September, giving everybody a chance to catch up on other things. After two full weeks of political conventions, we’ve earned that break this year.

Politics has a twin sibling that cannot take a break, or shouldn’t. Policies that spring from political decisions must continue. Politics instigate; policies implement. Here are a few assumptions embedded in our policies that may be worth reexamining.

1. Avoid policy cliffs

We should try to eliminate most of our “all or nothing” mental habits. Lane County could save millions if it closed half its refuse transfer stations. That makes sense on a spreadsheet, but not if you’re stuck with an old mattress and no truck to transport it.

If the spreadsheet people met the bed sheet people, each would see the other’s point of view, and accommodations could be made. The county closed its administrative offices every day for the lunch hour to save money and hurt nobody.

To close a transfer station tomorrow, reduce its hours of operation today. Citizens will tell you that they don’t want to change, but what they’re really asking for is time to adapt. With three years warning, most aging mattresses will be disposed before the commute to the dump lengthens.

Unions rules may need more flexibility to accommodate a broader range of solutions, removing other “all or nothing” obstacles.

2. Bind your future selves

Politicians need better tools for binding their voting bodies to solutions that stretch over longer periods of time. Words alone will not suffice. There are constitutional prohibitions against binding future office-holders, but they can be overcome.

Contracts cannot be broken or renegotiated, as our legislators have learned from the Public Employees Retirement System. Could contract attorneys be deployed to similarly bind the county to close one transfer station every year for a decade, whether they want to or not? It may require an outsourcing contract, but it’s worth a try.

Politicians lose credibility with the public when they trade future pain for present benefit, and then dodge that pain when it comes due. They cannot legally require future politicians to do what must be done, but they can make alternatives more painful than compliance.

As Eugene and Lane County contemplate legacy building projects, they might devise an annuity-style restricted fund, dedicated to paying utilities and maintenance costs over the buildings’ projected life spans. Structures that are well-maintained always last longer, but politicians who fund maintenance over sexy new initiatives may not. A dedicated funding source would protect those politicians from making popular-but-imprudent choices in the future.

3. Question Complaint-Based Enforcement

Policy has a close cousin that deserves attention. “Policing” is how our policies are enforced. Chicago made it a policy to reduce speeding near public parks, and now there are automated speed enforcement cameras installed on streets adjacent to parks across the city. Tickets mailed to vehicle owners could include the statistic of how many children regularly use the particular park they were speeding past.

Chicago hopes to achieve efficient policing through automation. We don’t use cameras for enforcement, and I hope we won’t — for reasons that will have to wait for another column. But what we do instead may be worse. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman once described our enforcement choices as between Big Brother and Little Sister.

More and more of our enforcement strategies rely on complaints — often anonymous complaints. We’ve all heard terrible tales of Germans and Russians spying on one another, building a culture of fear and retribution. It offers a seductive efficiency to government officials. Enforcing only the rules that citizens care about, they don’t bother enforcing many others. “If you see something, say something” encourages suspicion and tattling.

For example, sidewalk signs are not allowed in Eugene, but merchants use them all the time. When enforcement is initiated only by complaints, won’t unpopular (but perfectly legal) businesses be unfairly targeted? Doesn’t that strategy eventually condone “mob rule,” but by another name?

Policing, policies, politics — the swirl slows in August, but it never stops.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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